Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig on Twitter) wrote an article, “The 12-Year-Old English Kid Who Carried Us To Victory“, that indirectly supports my belief that multiplayer First Person Shooters and Flight Sims provide just as much, if not more opportunity for role-playing than MMORPGs like World of Warcraft.
I’ve been a tabletop RPG gamer for over 30 years. As well, I’ve been a PC gamer for almost that long. Hell, I remember playing pong when it first came out on that 3000 lb. table-like thing that cost about a gajillion dollars. As such, my first multiplayer experience in the modern PC gamer sense of the word was playing Falcon 3.0 back in 1991, with two PCs in separate rooms hooked up via a crossover cable . We shot each other down in “instant action” a few times, but we found ourselves lost for hours playing the campaign missions co-op, not even realizing that sometime during the session we’d slipped into fighter pilot wingman personas. Unfortunately, the pots I’d smoken that night eventually got to me. I lined up my sights with his tail, and gave my spacebar a quick, single tap. My guns went, and I quote, “Digga.”
My friend veered off screaming, “Bogey Bogey Bogey! I’m under fire! Break Right And Engage!”
We flew around looking for the Phantom Bogey for a while, and I was laughing my THC-addled ass off so hard I almost peed. I had to do it as quietly as possible though, because my buddy was in the next room, so what came out of me sounded more like wheezing than laughing. By the time my buddy decided that we’d lost the bogey, I’d stopped laughing and we got back into formation. Then…
… we were off looking for the Phantom Bogey again. Cursing, wheezing, flying, rolling, turning, diving. We did an even more thorough search this time, going grid square by grid square, but eventually my buddy signaled the all clear, and we got back into formation.
“Holy crap… are you SHOOTING me!?!”
“For the love a… flaps stuck, rudder’s busted, landing gear won’t deploy. Gonna try and land this puppy anyway.”
And you know what? The magnificent bastard did. I know because I watched him belly land “that puppy” as I flew upside down into the tower at about Mach 2.
Now while I may have lost mindset and shot friendlies occasionally, I always remembered the immersive role-playing experience I got when playing Falcon 3.0 with my buddy. I tried to recapture it, unsuccessfully, until a little game called X-wing versus Tie Fighter: Balance of Power, and the time me and a bunch of buddies took out a Super Star Destroyer.
We’d been talking about getting together and trying it for a week beforehand. We joked around, and even gave each other call signs to go by while in game, although we ended up just going by squadron call signs like Green 5, Gold 3, etc., ala “A New Hope”. On the day of the game, we spent the time it took to set up the largest LAN party my experienced LAN party buddy had seen up until that point (it was my first LAN party), and back in those days it was a pain to get everything working. When it was all finally up and running smoothly, our anticipation was palpable. I was Gold 2, part of the b-wing bomber squadron tasked with taking out the Super Star Destroyer’s shield generators, and the wingman of Gold Leader. Gold leader was the role we gave to a buddy we’d called “Coop” since junior high.
When we came out of hyperspace, we could see the Super Star Destroyer in the distance. Some of us started goofing around on the mics, as this was the first experience most of us had with voice comms in a PC game, over what would one day become the Sidewinder voice comms program. Rogue Leader was played by a buddy of ours who was a little older than us, who was awesome at the game, and who was an actual Air Force navigation officer. In a calm but authoritative voice he, ordered:
“Cut the chatter gentlemen, orders in 2.”
Holy shit. My mindset slammed into place, and I WAS Gold 2. I could tell that everyone else felt that same chill running down their spine as the thrill of it washed over them, because the radio became silent as death.
Get ready to make your run Gold squadron. A-wing Rogues with me on space superiority, Green squadron X-wings are on bomber detail. Wait for my order, then break and attack. Squadron leaders copy?”
“Copy that Rogue Leader”
“Copy that Rogue Leader”
When the order was given to break and attack, we were like a well oiled machine. Rogue, flying the faster A-wings hit them first, followed by Green Squadron’s X-wings. Being in the slower B-wings, I began seeing green and red blaster bolts, and the telltale reddish orange blooms as unshielded Tie Fighters were exploding from Rogue and Green squadron’s withering fire. My mindset was firmly in place, but what made the whole experience hit home was what happened on our run at the first shield generator.
Coop’s plan was to fly in as fast and low as possible along the Super Star Destroyer’s hull, and pull up when we were close to the shield generator on the right side, and hit it with torpedo fire. This plan would have been awesome against living gunners firing massive, slow moving turbolasers, but against an insta-targeting computer bot bristling with guns this plan wasn’t so good. Our shields were being peeled faster than bananas at an ice cream stand. And that’s when it happened…
“Guys, my shields are gone! We gotta…. AIIIEEEEEEEEEEE” ***BOOM***….
An explosion to my 10 o’clock, and Coop is cut off mid-scream by a strategically muted mic. Silence again over the comms until Green 3 (My buddy Brian) exclaimed:
“Shit… we lost Coop.”
At that moment, everyone got that chill again, and we actually felt a tug at the ol’ heart strings. We also thought what Coop did was Really Cool, and we all made the decision unanimously, in unspoken man-telepathy, that if the time came, we’d die like that ourselves. Though lady victory favoured us with her smile that day, the cost in computer sprites was high, allowing many of us to die in style. I myself died destroying the second generator in a kamikaze attack.
Since the advent of the high-speed interwebs, I’ve occasionally been able to find these immersive role-playing experiences again. Notably, in Tachyon: The Fringe Base Wars, Delta Force: Land Warrior, Mechwarrior 4, and even more often now in the new popular co-op games like Left 4 Dead and Borderlands.
I’ve tried 3rd person sprite driven games like WoW, but I wasn’t able to suspend disbelief like I can with first person shooters or sims. I wasn’t able to LOSE myself in the character like I’m able to do during tabletop role-playing or LARPing.
If any of you like to role-play while playing FPSs or sims on computer and would like to play with ol’ Doc, my Steam ID is Black_Doc_McGurk. If you have some other kind of online play account and you’d still like to play games with me online, you can message me in Doc’s Suggestion Box in the Shared Weave Games forums, direct or mention in Twitter (@DocDraconis), Facebook (Doc Wilson), or Google Plus (Doc Wilson). If e-mail is easier, send to [email protected] and I’ll get it.